PRESS CONFERENCE BY GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT ON HIGH-LEVEL HIV/AIDS MEETING

10 June 2008

PRESS CONFERENCE BY GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT ON HIGH-LEVEL HIV/AIDS MEETING

10 June 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT ON HIGH-LEVEL HIV/AIDS MEETING

The international community could make no real progress on poverty, health, gender, the situation of children and other international development goals with millions of people dying of AIDS each year, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said at Headquarters this afternoon.

At a press conference where he briefed on the Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS, he stressed that a wider development agenda was inconceivable without resolving problems relating to the global pandemic.  That had been the reason for convening today’s event, which sought to review the progress achieved towards realizing the 2001 Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS and the 2006 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS.

Accompanied by Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Ratri Suksma of the Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility (CARAM) Asia, he said the subject under discussion today was closely related to implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, adding that attaining the HIV/AIDS target -– now on a slow track -- was critically important.  There was a link between today’s event and the Assembly meeting held in April to review implementation of the Millennium Goals, which had focused on poverty, education and health.

The significance of today’s High-Level Meeting was underscored by the fact that 151 Member States and six observers had requested to take the floor, he said.  Among the main issues highlighted today were the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS, as well as the rights to free travel, health and work.  More than one third of Member States still had no regulations governing those questions.  In the words of one participant today, some States had regulations for migrating birds, but not for people.  It was important to remember that the Assembly was not just discussing the virus; it was also discussing the destiny of millions of people, with an estimated 33.2 million people worldwide living with HIV.  Last year, some 2.5 million people had been newly infected, and 2.1 million AIDS deaths had occurred.

Dr. Fauci said his remarks this morning had been presented from the point of view of a scientist who had been involved in research and the care of HIV-infected individuals since 1981, when the first cases had been reported in the United States.  The theme of that discussion had been that, although breathtaking advances had been made in relation to HIV over the years, the international community should not rest on its laurels.  Much still remained to be done, both in the realm of science and as far as the “implementation gap” between the availability of the “fruits of research” and their shortage in lower- and middle-income countries.  The international community had a moral responsibility to provide universal access to available drugs, despite concerns about patients developing resistance.

He said his statement had also dealt with the need to address the misconception that the provision of services and care for HIV patients took attention away from other diseases, he continued.  Although there had been failures over the last year or so in attempts to develop a vaccine, there were prevention modalities that were proven and available.

Ms. Suksma said her remarks this morning had been of a more general nature, dealing with such cross-cutting issues as migration, human rights, women, children and youth, adding that, as a civil society representative, she wished to remind Member States of their commitments to ensure universal access to treatment by 2010.  “And yet, it is already 2008 and we haven’t really seen any significant progress that we can talk about.”

Responding to several questions about HIV/AIDS in the United States, Dr. Fauci said that, although it was a rich country, it had been unable to get the numbers below the level with which he could feel comfortable.  More than 750,000 AIDS cases had been diagnosed and over 500,000 deaths had occurred in the United States.  An important aspect of the problem was 40,000 to 52,000 new infections that occurred each year.  That was bad enough, but that level had hit a plateau for the last 14 years.

There were phenomenal disparities in the country as far as the races were concerned, he said.  Some 12 per cent of the United States population was African American, yet 49 per cent of newly infected men were of that ethnicity, in addition to 65 per cent of newly infected women.  Those disparities generally related to inner-city areas, injection drug use and sex for cocaine.

While there access to medications was good, the important issue was identifying infected people, he continued.  There were 1.1 million infected people in the United States, but 25 per cent of them did not know their status.  It was important to make testing a routine part of medical care.  Since the issuance of related guidelines some 18 months ago, a new approach to testing was being introduced:  “You get it unless you say you don’t want it”.

Regarding the prospects for discovering a vaccine or a cure, he said, “We might never be able to find it.”  While that was a sobering thought, the good news was that the drugs available now could maintain people with an undetectable virus load for decades.  As for vaccines, it was difficult to predict when they would be developed, but it could be some 10 years from the present time.

Asked to comment on criticism of how the pandemic was being handled, he said it was understandable that people saw the attention paid to HIV/AIDS as a diversion from other important diseases.  There had been a time when money had been put primarily into combating HIV/AIDS, even in regions afflicted also by malaria, measles and tuberculosis.  That “unintentional mishap” was now being corrected and there was now a synergy of health services.

Responding to a question about travel restrictions on economic migrants with AIDS, General Assembly President Kerim replied that national legislation differed from country to country, yet the issue was addressed in the Declaration.  The dominant question in today’s debate was demand for the rights to travel and health.  That was something the Assembly was appealing for, but could not enforce.  Such restrictions were a breach of human rights.

Ms. Suksma added that, despite the many “beautiful agreements and declarations” in effect, they could not be used as powerful tools at the country level as long as countries did not ratify them.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.